A view from the streets of London

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A view from the streets of London

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The riots have certainly succeeded in bringing at least one thing: shock.

I have spoken to Londoners from all walks of life since the riots began. They cannot believe the extent of the greed, the violence and of the selfishness.

Londoners are of the opinion that what is happening is not a sign of protest at the erosion of civil liberties, but purely criminal.

It is local and private businesses that have suffered from the riots. I spoke to Graham Reeves whose family business was burnt down and completely destroyed. The furniture business has been a cornerstone of the community in Croydon since the Victorian period, nearly 150 years. Now, all that is left is rubble and burnt bricks.

When it comes to activism, London has an excellent record. That February day when more than 1.5 million people came onto the streets to protest against the war in Iraq will not be forgotten.

So far, it has been neighbourhood and small businesses that have been targeted. The negative effect on the economy will be inevitable in the volatile times that countries, including Britain, are struggling through.

The bigger danger is if the City, the financial centre of London, gets targeted. I can’t begin to imagine the repercussions.

An elderly lady told me in Brixton that Mark Duggan, the man who was shot dead by the police, in circumstances that are still being investigated, won’t be remembered as a “victim” but only by the vicious violence that followed his death.

I can’t see these mindless actions related to Mr Duggan in any way. Yes, there is injustice and exclusion, but do they warrant robbery, looting, theft and the rest of the criminal acts? No is the simple answer. The root cause of those problems needs to be addressed.

London reminds me of Tehran, where I have witnessed student protests, where I have seen very similar images of citizens and the anti-riot forces engaged in skirmishes.

But there is a deep, underlying difference. I had respect for the people who took to the streets and demanded their basic rights, who shouted against what they called a rigged election, who fought for democracy.

London’s looters do not seem to have the capacity to comprehend there is more to life than satisfying their greed.

Ali Sheikholeslami
Reporting from Hackney